Check back for further student perspectives on the Wiess Energy Hall at the Houston Museum of Natural Science. This year’s environmental studies 202 (culture, energy, and environment) students visited the hall to learn about the public image of energy in Houston.
Fossil Fuels Dominate the Weiss Energy Hall
The Weiss Energy Hall at the Houston Museum of Natural Science (HMNS) is a large, winding exhibit, which aims to depict our methods of obtaining and using energy. It includes a wide variety of interactive and entertaining programs, including musical numbers, games, movies, and more. The museum delivers an unabashed idealization of fossil fuels, fails to mention greenhouse gas emissions, and gives renewables a disproportionally low amount of representation. Therefore, it is clear that the donors of the exhibit, which were primarily fossil fuel companies, were influential in determining the message of the Energy Hall.
The overall takeaway of the exhibit is a sensationalizing of fossil fuels. The Energy Explorations Theater, produced by HMNS and Conoco Phillips, played an animated musical number in which a computer wizard sang to a young boy about different sources of energy. He describes natural gas as “clean and bright”, oil as a “hidden treasure”, and electricity as “pure simplicity”. At the end of the song, renewables are lumped together and described as “do-able”, a much less exciting descriptor. The need for renewables was attributed to the decreasing supply of coal and oil, not carbon emissions or climate change.
In fact, I could not find one mention of carbon emissions or climate change in the entire Energy Hall. The exhibit explicitly outlines the methods of discovering, excavating, transporting, and refining fossil fuels. At least one of these accounts of fossil fuel energy could have been replaced by an explanation of carbon emissions, a very important consequence of the processes described.
The final failure of the Energy Hall lies in its treatment of renewable resources. All renewable resources were given three small, plain television screens; one each for biomass, nuclear, and all other sources combined (including solar, wind, geothermal, hydroelectric, and wave energy). These television screens consist of boring, soundless animations explaining the science behind each energy source. In short, they are too uninteresting for anyone to completely read all of that important information. Thus, this section of the hall is unsurprisingly less populated in comparison to all other sections. This ‘alternative energy’ area of the Energy Hall was sponsored by Conoco, Copper Industries, and BP America.
Science museums are generally viewed as a non-biased source of factual information. This biased exhibit will no doubt diminish the credibility of the Houston Museum of Natural Science. For those who wish to learn about all aspects of energy, including its consequences for the environment and including renewable energy sources, the Weiss Energy Hall will surely disappoint.